Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, complete ballet (SACD review)

Also, Pavane pour une infante defunte. Netherlands Radio Choir; Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. BIS BIS-1850 SACD.

French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel began writing his one-act, three-scene ballet Daphnis et Chloe in 1909, premiering it in 1912 under the baton of Pierre Monteux. Ravel described the work as a "symphonie choréographique," a choreographed symphony. I mention this because there are times, such as listening to the suites alone, when one gets the sense that the conductors were simply stringing together a random selection of tone paintings. The work should feel of a piece, something the aforementioned Monteux and other conductors like Charles Munch and Charles Dutoit succeed at doing admirably. Which brings us to the present recording with Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

It may be a measure of Nezet-Seguin's energy and enthusiasm that he manages to be the principal conductor of two major orchestras, both the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He usually communicates that energy in his recordings, sometimes to the detriment of the performance, but most of the time not. Here, he is in flying colors, pouring a good deal of vitality into a vivid score that undoubtedly benefits from his passion.

The story of the ballet deals with the love between a goatherd, Daphnis, and a shepherdess, Chloe. Choreographer Michel Fokine adapted the tale from the Greek writer Longus, dating back to somewhere around the second century A.D. It's colorful, poignant, and exciting, the music communicating a variety of moods.

Even though Nezet-Seguin puts a good deal of zeal into his interpretation, as I say, particularly in the middle of the second part and the final movement of the third part, he is not without a delicate touch in the more-peaceful, atmospheric sections. There were a few times when I thought his musical descriptions appeared a bit too plodding, as in the "Danse grotesque," but at least he has good reason for approaching the characterization this way. When the conductor appears fully engaged, which is most of the time, the music sounds graceful and fluid, generally flowing through the transitions elegantly.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin
Most important, Nezet-Seguin does a good job conveying the more-atmospheric features of the music, never letting it sink into mere picturesqueness, sentimentality, or bombast. Let's say, it never gets boring and mostly remains quite beautiful. He seems to get the most out of the orchestra, too, as they sound lustrous and luxuriant from softest pianissimo to loudest crescendo. The wordless chorus also do a fine job, never overpowering the orchestral contribution but becoming an integral part of it.

Accompanying the ballet we get the Pavane pour une infante defunte ("a slow dance for a dead princess"), which Ravel originally wrote for piano in 1899 and didn't get the orchestral version heard here until 1910. Nezet-Seguin takes it rather differently than other conductors, starting more slowly and gradually but modestly quickening the gait toward the middle, easing down again at the end. It keeps the piece from dragging, to be sure, but it perhaps robs it of some of its melancholy bearing.

Producer Robert Suff and engineer Thore Brinkmann of Take5 Music Production recorded the album at DeDoelen Hall, Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2012 and 2014. They made and mixed it for hybrid CD/SACD playback, meaning, of course, that you can play the regular two-channel layer on any standard CD player, but you'll need an SACD player to play the two-channel and multichannel SACD layers. I listened to the two-channel SACD playback using a Sony SACD player.

The first thing one cannot help noticing about the sound is the huge dynamic range involved. It begins so softly, it may tempt you into turning up the volume. I advise against doing so because it isn't long before the louder sections kick in, and you may be sorry. Anyway, there is a commendable range and impact to the dynamics, with a reasonably good deep bass. The next things one notices about the sound are its sense of airiness, openness, depth, and space.

The "however" in all of this is that while the dynamics, air, and depth sound excellent, the midrange clarity is only average, there's a somewhat forward quality to the upper mids, and there isn't much sparkle in the highs. There is also a very slight coarseness about the sound, noticeable especially in the chorus.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa